SKOPJE, 16 February 2018 - “Today the whole country has been saddened to learn of the abuse of a child in care of the state. A full investigation is underway and those found guilty of abuse or negligence must be brought to justice. While the abuse took place outside of a state institution, the case raises serious questions about how society's most vulnerable children are protected.
Child abuse is a global problem. Child sex offenders are most dangerous when they become networked into grooming or trafficking groups. They prey on children in state care and from dysfunctional families, often on children with low self-esteem, poor attachment and mental health problems. In most countries in this region, the law enforcement agencies are not yet fully equipped to address the problems. The fact that subject remains a public taboo also serves as an obstacle to prevention and response. We need to have strong investments in intelligence-led and forensic policing to break such networks and to bring the full weight of the law down upon those who would do harm to children.
Secondly, we have to recognise that institutional care settings cannot adequately protect children from harm. They also cannot ensure the healthy development of children or their recovery from trauma, abuse or neglect they may have been affected by in the family. This is why the government, the EU, UNICEF and our other partners have been working together to transform these institutions and provide family-based care where every child will have adequate care, love and dedication - the type of things we would all expect for our own children. These efforts have intensified dramatically in the last few months and the government has pledged to end placement of children under 3 in institutional care by 2020. This means more foster care families, better adoption procedures, small group homes with a much better staff to child ratio and most importantly work with parents to prevent violence, neglect and abandonment in the first place.
Thirdly, we need to address the issues of public sector performance. That people who work in social work, education, health and policing are passionately driven and motivated to do their best for children. Social workers must be empowered to act as case managers and identify appropriate providers and interventions across a range of social, psychological, health and other service domains that will focus on increasing positive outcomes for vulnerable children. And if we can break the public taboo, we can have an open and honest discussion about the problems of violence against children.
This is a long-standing problem. The challenges for all children in the country are immense and we are lagging behind our neighbours from the Western Balkans in so many areas. We also have high child poverty and comparatively high infant mortality, pre-school enrolment rates and secondary school outcomes. The whole of our society-whether we are in Struga, Skopje or Shtip need to come together with a sense of urgency to ensure the survival, protection and development of all of our children. We can do this, but we can only do it together.”
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.